Romance Found: the Laurel Highlands & Pittsburgh
By Alison Blackman, Editor in Chief, Advicesisters.com
When asked for one word to describe Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece built over a waterfall in the Laurel Highlands south of Pittsburgh, owner, Edgar Kaufman Sr. said one word, “romantic.” After hearing this story, I immediately thought of a visit I made to Hakone, Japan’s Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park west of Tokyo, known for hot springs resorts and Mt. Fuji views. Locals and tourists can get there via a “Romantic Train.” No, it wasn’t that kind of love they were referencing – it was the “romantic nature of travel.”
On my recent trip with VisitPITTSBURGH and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau it was easy to see why “romance” is the perfect way to describe the natural beauty of the Laurel Highlands and why visitors, especially art lovers, can’t help but fall in love with the City of Pittsburgh. Both are great vacation destinations for both singles and couples. On my trip, the focus was on the romantic nature of art, both natural and man-made.
Pittsburgh has a user-friendly, casual vibe and serves up a whopping helping of arts and culture. Art lovers will need at least a few days to check out everything from murals, entire homes decorated as “art” to the diverse and excellent galleries and museums.
Art in Pittsburgh: You can easily spend an entire day visiting the Frick Art & Historical Center, located in the city’s East End. The museum and its multiple collections include fine and decorative arts and artifacts. A fascinating look at the Gilded Age is available by touring Clayton, Henry Clay Frick’s home (one of the few intact homes from Pittsburgh’s lost “Millionaire’s Row). Enjoy lunch or even tea-time at the charming cafe near the visitor’s center.
For modern art lovers, two unique venues featuring today’s artists are the Society for Contemporary Craft and the Mattress Factory. The Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District, features thought-provoking contemporary crafts focusing on specific social issues. The gallery also offers free art classes and a lovely museum store. Go early for breakfast, at Pamela’s Diner for swoon-worthy comfort food. Be sure to walk around the Strip District neighborhood with its interesting shops, restaurants and colorful wall murals.
Another must-see is the Mattress Factory with a large, main exhibition space (the former Stearns and Foster mattress factory) and a number of other art installations in the neighborhood. You’ll need a couple of hours to absorb all of it!
The City of Pittsburgh is working on an ambitious project, the ReNew Festival , featuring events and art exhibitions from local and international artists plus the North American Premiere of Drap Art, using found materials, and promoting creative recycling through art and events.
Art in the Laurel Highlands: Find the romance of art and nature as a a solo traveler, with someone special, or with a group, in the Laurel Highlands. The the area offers plenty of natural beauty just about an hours’ drive from the City of Pittsburgh. You’ll want to spend a few days there visiting some of the world’s finest art and architecture as well as two houses designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright: Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater. Tours for both houses are a must (call ahead or book online as you can’t visit the interior of the homes without a guided tour). Walk around the scenic grounds of Fallingwater and the art trail of sculpture at Kentuck Knob. After your tour of Fallingwater, the FallingWater Café is a nice place to take a break and have snacks or lunch.
A place to stay that is a real treat is the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, with tons of Waterford chandeliers and a lobby inspired by the Ritz Hotel in Paris. The resort has much to offer, including among other things, shuttle service to Fallingwater and a casino (free shuttle service and a 5-minute ride through the property). It also boasts one of the top spas in the country. There are a variety of lodging options from Fallingrock, complete with butler service, to a variety of accommodations including the Lodge and the Chateau. There are also some townhomes and an RV park. The entire complex is decorated with pieces of the $45 million dollar Hardy Family art collection. Take a tour with a guide or just enjoy the art throughout the resort, with diverse paintings, collectibles, sculptures and work from local artists. There are also small museums of cars and plane and a private zoo (including rescued bears, big cats, buffalo, wolves, lions and tigers) thanks to Nemacolin owner Joe Hardy III. There’s also golf, skiing, horseback riding, and so much more to do (some by request within 24 hours).
Art in Greensburg: Venturing about an hour down the road, it would be easy to spend a day at The Westmoreland Museum of Art, located in nearby Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Located in a stunningly renovated building with sweeping view of the outside, the museum is filled with traditional art from the region, modern art installations, and folk art. While in Greensburg, have dinner in the unique setting of The Supper Club at Greensburg Station, offering a farm-to-table menu served in the charm of a restored 1911 train station.
Art in the City of Pittsburgh: The new Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Downtown Pittsburgh is convenient to everything, offering all the amenities tourists and business travelers require. The hotel offers coffee makers in the room and coffee and tea in the lobby in the morning, to get you going. Kimpton Hotels also host a daily cocktail hour with wine and snacks so guests can relax, and mingle. Another feature I personally love is the ability to request a “fish friend”as a companion in your room, during your stay.
When it comes to art and culture, you can easily spend an entire day visiting the Frick Art & Historical Center. Located in Pittsburgh’s East End. The museum and its multiple collections include fine and decorative arts and artifacts. You can also tour Clayton, Henry Clay Frick’s home (one of the few intact homes from Pittsburgh’s lost “Millionaire’s Row). Enjoy lunch or even tea-time at the charming cafe near the visitor’s center.
No art enthusiast can visit Pittsburgh without reserving a few days to visit the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh which include the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and the Andy Warhol Museum. If you have the time you can spend a day at each, but leave at least a couple hours to view the diversity of the art and artifacts.
For modern art lovers, new art is being created and displayed all over the City in various ways (contact VisitPITTSBURGH for more information). Two unique venues featuring today’s artists are the Society for Contemporary Craft and the Mattress Factory . The first features a focus on important social issues through the eyes of the artists and you can arrange for free craft classes for adult and children. The Mattress Factory has a main museum featuring large modern art installations. It used to be (among other things) the Stearns and Foster mattress factory. You can also visit a few out-buildings in the neighborhood containing small to entire house art installations. Later this year the City of Pittsburgh will feature an ambitious project, a Drap Art Festival, featuring events and art exhibitions from local and international artists using found materials, and promoting creative recycling through art and events.
You’ll need a few days just to hit the art highlights, some of which I visited with the Pittsburgh Visitors Bureau. Serve up more art and culture on a walking tour in any season by interest through a company such as Pittsburgh Tours and More . Check out a Movie Tour, or sample some of the local favorites on a Flavor of Pittsburgh Food Tour or a PA Winery Tour. Experience the culture and food of some of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods on a Burgh, Bits and Bites foodie walking tour.
Food is a way to learn about the culture of an area, and the one thing everyone wants to try in Pittsburgh the Primanti sandwiches (created first as a “grab and go” for truckers and shift workers), with everything but the kitchen sink on them. But for those seeking something unique and sophisticated there are lots of options. Enjoy unique maki, and small plates and Pan Nigiri Asian-Fusion at PAN Asian Kitchen in the Lawrenceville section. Try the Church Brew Works, offering craft beers of all types including their own, plus affordable, generous portions of food and desserts in a unique setting of a church re-purposed as a restaurant. For truly elegant dining in another unusual setting, make reservations at the Grand Concourse at Station Square. The huge restaurant is housed in the former Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railroad Station and features picture windows, offering spectacular river views.
Pittsburgh & the Laurel Highlands offer up art and romance and any time of year is a good time to visit. The estimated drive time to Pittsburgh from New York City is 6 hours, 4 from Washington DC. Plan on making stops to experience the scenery and check out the local flavor, across Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh is also easily accessible by plane, train or bus. Any time of year is a good time to visit. For more information contact VisitPITTSBURGH and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau
*all photos (c) 2015 by Alison Blackman